Andrés Amitai Wilson
I remember the scent of my father—
the black coffee, steaming up
from a styrofoam cup,
like a sound; the guitar-case cornucopia of overflowing strings,
of mildew, of manuscripts, of spruce and soot and dirt
from the work he did to live.
Like his guitar idol, Andrés, he sought to live,
and came east to master the classical guitar. My father,
a black-bearded teen, strummed on by Midwestern optimism and diatonic dirt
that from his soundhole rose up
but didn’t quite tickle the right heartstrings
or raise the right cups.
So, to him, I raise my own calloused cup
of coffee and song, to a dreamer–though like no saint did he live
because he was always alone somewhere, lost and plucking strings,
and saints are always nowhere, contemplating God in silence. But I can’t help loving my father,
because a child’s love vibrates like the low E string, resounding up
in hertz and becoming music, getting stuck under the fingernails like dirt
when one digs a grave without gloves; bloody dirt–
breaking past callouses to the bone, the genetic code that overflows the rim of your cup
and runneth over with liqueurs invisible; music boils up
and bubbles into first-morning voicings and unspoken alive.
But that was when I lived most without my father
who went off into the Navy to fix windmills. Not really a soldier, but he wound strings,
held wrenches, learned how to operate boilers and hoped someone would pull strings
to raise him and his guitar up from mopping the poop deck and its dirt.
All the same, I did learn my first guitar scale from my father–
the Pentatonic Scale, five notes that I still draw from my cup
all too much. They meander mother Griot’s gravelly voice, instructing me in the echoes of a
Kora about how I should live,
and when I play the guitar, my eyes hardly look up
but, instead, follow the fingers as they amble toward some lost temple, offer sounds up
as if on the recycled fretboard altar to the Muses, the strings
of their lyre, by each fret striving to live,
to transubstantiate from unholy dirt,
into vineyards, into grapes, into wine, into a eucharist in a cup
that I probably, in some way, also offer for my father.
But am I just a guitar-wielding, effigy planted in his coffee-ground dirt
patch, its strings wound up, but its soil slowly leaking from the styrofoam cup
that once held the dreams of my father?
On Choosing the Name for Our Covid Baby, "Naomi Snow"
נָעֳמִי– "Naomi," Hebrew for "pleasantness,"
and in all this distance, with the masks up, and the blood
pressures rising, we could sometimes find it on a walk
beneath canopies of maple leaves and atop the scamper
of puddingstone pebbles, or under the comforter
of polyglot pillow talk.
The Hebrew is from your mother's tongue and land–
a place of sweet dates, dry
parchment, and sand.
May it all be pleasant for you as well, our youngest of three,
ruddy and new, cooing up as if some silent
God would heed.
And "Snow"– not just the cold newness
of purification, or the folds of Boston blankets into
which you were born, but the shortened surname
of the grandfather from whom your father came:
a bald junkman who started working in the sixth grade
when his own father died; a Hercules whose adamantine devotion to family and
kindness and work –and despite the petitions from neighbors–
purchased a white house with black shutters
in a white neighborhood with no Blacks.
The light that reflected from off of his shiny, brown head
taught your own father that shadows and supernovas could be friends.
May you never forget that porousness of it all.
Choosing a name is circumscribing a destiny
from its very beginning; writing the story's themes
and plot without knowing anything about the main
character. We looked into
your seeking eyes– past the greenish scales
that you will sough or the bumps
from the hinges of the birth canal– and we crafted
a narrative with only
etymologies but without exposition.
Now it is your turn to begin for the very first time,
But remember that every again is really the first,
every moment a new birth.
Andrés Amitai Wilson: “My maternal ancestors were the first Blacks to settle the small New England town in which I grew up. I currently teach English, music, and yoga at the Roxbury Latin School, and I am also a busy session and touring guitarist with many recordings and performance credits. My poetry has been widely published, and my debut chapbook of poems, Glitter Glue the Slowly Sinking Idols, is slated for release next year. I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. When not making music, reading or writing, I can usually be found running around with my three children.”